Brains: Reshaped by Touchscreen Use

You know what they say about big thumbs… 😉

Extensive use of smartphone touchscreens is changing the sensory relationship between our brains and our thumbs, a study published in Current Biology has revealed.

…”What this means for us neuroscientists is that the digital history we carry in our pockets has an enormous amount of information on how we use our fingertips (and more),” explains one of the study’s authors, Arko Ghosh.Linking this “digital history” to brain activity was a case of using electroencephalography (EEG) to examine how regular smartphone users responded in tests compared to those who use older-style feature phones. Each set of phone users had their brain response to various mechanical touches recorded, with a focus on the thumb, forefinger and middle finger.

Source: Our brains are being ‘continuously reshaped’ by smartphone use

We’ve known for a long time that your brain specializes and you gain greater sensitivity when you repeat tasks or increase usage of a part of your body.  Braille is the classic example. Most people would have a hard time discriminating the individual raised dots without wiggling their finger on each one (and some people not even then), but once you learn and practice your fingers can read them at a fairly decent speed.  Other examples include: martial arts, yoga, artistry and artisanry (blacksmithing, masons, tilers, etc), athletes…

Some would argue that this is evolutionary.  But sperm DNA is continuosly modified, so men pass on different things at different ages. Eggs are all formed before birth.  This is why a theory exists that cancers/etc might occurring in children whose fathers are older.  Secondly, we have lots in our bodies which serves no purpose, but it wasn’t phased out completely.  IE: the appendix.  Not only it doesn’t help, but it represents a potential cause of death in some cases. We have evolved not to need it/ use it, but we didn’t get rid of it.  Similarly – the tail bone.  Some do have a vestigial tail.  Don’t send me pics, I’m only interested if the tail is prehensile.  Epigenetics is the field working to explain what you are imparting on your children.

The real take-away from the abstract is the suggestion that your brain increases activity to your thumbs, but only while you’re using a touchscreen (smartphone, tablet, etc).